Celebrating Differences…

Aarav, my 6 year old son came one day and said “Ananya have mari friend nathi… aapda ghare avi ne, ene Chahel sathej ramvu hoy che”… Ananya is the 5 year old daughter of one of my best friend. She and Aarav have been in the same school bus since 3 years and practically been a lot of time together since birth… but nowadays, I can see the difference… Aarav enjoys playing more with his friends – in the stereotypical boy ways – something noisy, mostly involving lots of running around, mock fighting in some form, etc… Whilst Ananya enjoys with more with her friends in again stereotypical girl ways – quiet, more calm, less physical games… even if it means with our 1 year old daughter Chahel… And they both go to a school which is as gender neutral as possible…  and they are both quite limited to media exposure… but somewhere, there is a basic difference between them… there is a difference between a boy and a girl… physical apart, the mental makeup of both of them are different… And somehow I figure that these differences will manifest itself in more acute manners when they keep growing up…

What I wrote above tends to veer towards stereotyping… a highly negative word in today’s world where equality – construed as considering everyone as same – is positive and differentiation in any manner hence perceived as regressive…

My point is not about stereotyping… but as you will soon understand… it’s actually about recognizing, accepting and celebrating the differences and the benefits it brings to the world as a whole… In the blinding garb of equality or oneness, we are oscillating to an extreme where we are ruthlessly trying to nip differences at the bud itself… In many aspects of our life…

Let’s begin with gender… I genuinely believe men and women are different… their minds are just very different… now if I say all men are the same and all women are the same – then I am stereotyping… that’s not my point… there are certain men who have predominant women’s qualities and vice versa… but in general, it’s not difficult to associate certain qualities and thought patterns with men and certain others with women… And I am not going to list them out – for we all can guess them out…

In India, these gender differences were celebrated (with different festivals and different ways in same festivals)… and manifested in how worldly duties were divided between the genders to play to each one’s strength… that’s essentially the background in which the much maligned mythological saint Manu wrote his Smriti (treaties) when at some point he was apparently asked by the whole man and womankind to bring an order to the world… His Smriti has become maligned because with times, instead of tweaking it for making it stay relevant, men generally misused it, kept it the same / took it to an extreme…

So well, today Manu uncle is hated and probably needs to wait for another chaos before being consulted for advice again… till then his treaties truly cannot be enforced and is junk… women need to feel liberated… need to explore the “man” world… need to prove themselves… and men need to learn respecting women as equal… today there is no equilibrium because the harmony has been subdued by centuries of oppression… so it might take a couple of centuries for it to be undone… and then we might again genuinely be ready to accept & celebrate the basic differences between genders, respect the roles and the harmonious world order it leads to… And if there is an exception to it at that time, which there will be, we would hopefully accept it and let that pan out as well…

Look at another example… Islam in India… It’s such a tricky subject nowadays to write anything about Islam… and I certainly hope I am not killed for writing his… but I will bite the bullet and pen down my thoughts…

We boast of a history of Bharat of 5000 years… That’s when we claim Ramayan happened… apart from Vedas (whose authorship and dates are ambiguous), Ramayan is essentially our 1st mythological event captured in text… 5000 years… by the stretch of our imagination that is our history… And of that same historical timeline, our country has had the exposure to Islam for 800 years or so… that is on 1/6th of our scale, Islam has been in Bharat… and yet today we still feel a little queasy about it being part of our rich heritage…

And what rich contributions it has brought to our culture… The list only begins with the grandeur of the Taj Mahal… There are Urdu poetries (aka Mirza Ghalib)… actually, the sheer beauty of that language itself still inspires the most romantic Bollywood songs of today… the perfumes, the gardens, some of the finest textiles… there are many such Islamic threads that have got woven into a wonderful Indian traditional mosaic…

But again… the uneasiness lies for each party in the recollected & perceived oppression in the way these differences were and are conceived… instead of accepting and celebrating the differences, there is a fight for supremacy…

All is not lost, though… things do turn around… take the example of education… from being a kind of one applicable set of textbooks giving all solutions to all students… it now veers towards identifying differences and cultivating them… Ask anyone who was an Indian state board pre-2000 pass out on how they felt their education was… and a majority would not want their kids to go through it… but look at the holistic IB and IGCSE boards or their influence on ICSE or CBSE gaining importance today… look at how sports quota is gaining importance… How a “Taare Zameen Par” or a “3 Idiots” movie becomes a Bollywood blockbuster… and you kind of know that the tide is turning…

In the case of genders or religion, however… reluctance to accept and the blindness to celebrating them will turn around only with time after the perceived oppression stops… when that feeling goes away… but for that clock to even begin the perception of oppression has to stop…

Till then… we will continue to pursue the lies of oneness and equality… For it does not matter how ridiculous a lie is if the lie is our only chance of escape… And it also does not matter how obvious the truth is if the truth is that we will never escape…

– Written on 1st February 2016.

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